1. Kaleb says:

    Then there are those of us who don’t have their own love story, and have no idea how to write one due to a lack of personal experience. That is likely why any I’d try to write would end up badly. Unfortunately, it’s also a major motivation in my current novel, so I’ll keep these in mind.

    • Kaleb: I was in your shoes at one point. So I read books with romantic elements that really appealed to me. Even if you have no experience, you know what kind of story appeals to you. Aragorn/Arwen? Elizabeth/Mr. Darcy? Han/Leia?
      Once you’ve picked one that really resonates with you, pick it apart and look at how the characters interact and how their relationship ends up. Then use similar emotional motivations with your own characters. Years later, you’ll reread it and freak yourself out at how accurate you were. 🙂

      • Kaleb says:

        I will have to do that, I think, even as much as I generally dislike romance. I’ll just have to think of it as a psychology experiment to manage to get through it. 
        But hey, it’s an excuse to rewatch Star Wars and Indiana Jones. 

  2. Lex Keating says:

    There is an element that may be behind part of this dearth of believable, empathetic love stories. It is an aspect of writing that I had not considered until I began to spend more time around writers. Especially, I’m almost sorry to say, speculative fiction authors. Regardless of whether these authors are published or not…
    It amazes me how many writers are uncomfortable when it comes to the very intimate task of looking themselves in the mirror. I know writers with wonderfully epic love stories that happened in their own lives–either to them, or to close family and friends–but when they sit down with a blank page, these writers suddenly develop Tourette’s and craft the most painful, stick-figured romances.
    Yes, it is hard to write intimacy. One has to consider behaviors, and feelings, and human interaction, and this can be very overwhelming. That doesn’t mean short-cuts work better. CS Lewis wrote in The Four Loves: “Eros will have naked bodies; Friendship naked personalities.” A good love story does not require any characters to take off their clothes. Else Jane Austen would not still be in print. But it DOES require the author to expose the soul of the character in such a way that truth and grace and hope and need are very real. Real to both the reader and the character.
    There is a vulnerability in this that I think a lot of us authors fear. It’s very hard to face the cold, cruel world and say “Love me, warts and all!” So we skip over the uncomfortable parts. Maybe we don’t confess our struggles with anger management. Or we turn a deaf ear when the preacher convicts us about our choices in music. Or we point at our neighbors and say “Thou shalt not be so self-righteous!” We’re not always honest with ourselves. Hence the psalmists plea “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts.” We tend to shy away from parts of us that we know don’t measure up, so we need an Advocate to do the searching and exposing for us.
    But where God is a wise and gentle father, the world is not. And I think that self-consciousness, that fear and pride, keep a lot of authors from communicating the wonder of God’s grace overcoming the messy parts of our lives. That’s not easy to control. And for many authors, having control of our fantasy world is a part of why we write. And until we let go of that control, giving God room to write the story in all its warts and wonder, our romances will stay thin and drawn. 🙂

    • Kaleb says:

      Yes, I think you’re right. Self-consciousness is a really hard thing to deal with in writing. 

    • Additional thought: good writers can do all they can to fix the problem, and yet the majority of Christian readers will flock to the cheap-trick “romances.” But apart from pointing to better stories that may “sell” themselves as well as can be expected, what can we as readers do to challenge and even discourage this behavior among those we know personally, and the evangelical/broader markets in general?

      • Lex Keating says:

        Well, not to get off-topic from the alien love slaves thing, but that comes back to the nature of fantasy. Fantasy is wish fulfilment. For fellas, this translates to superpowers and epic battles and discovering you’re not who you thought you were and that you can use your flaws as weapons against terrible foes. Heady stuff, to be like God. For fillies, this translates to being someone else’s center of the universe and loved enough that some gloriously beautiful god would sacrifice everything he had to be with me. Oh, to be loved. When we read to satisfy that longing, there are never enough books. Quality is secondary when the thirst for MORE cannot be quenched.
        Oddly enough, these desires are rooted in a spiritual need. As I understand it. Somewhere hidden in the human psyche, we want to be overcomers. We want to conquer and stand beside brave, good souls who share our passions. But when we look somewhere other than the unique calling God has on our lives, the need goes unanswered and the gaping hole that only the Holy Spirit can fill gets bigger.
        And, even amongst like-minded Christians, we can’t force others onto new paths. No matter what we see as God’s best for them, that is between them and God. We can look at a book–the public record of a very private journey–and get very critical. Lay that aside and listen. The writer might not be ready to step off the well-marked trail and follow where God is hacking through the jungle with a machete. Some of the most…twitchy…writers may never come to a point where they feel comfortable naked in the presence of God. Never mind that God formed them with His own hands. Live a free, celebratory life, inviting them always to live like children who trust their Father, but this isn’t so much an issue of bettering writing craft. It’s a matter of heart. I think.
        I’m not saying that nothing can be done. Write an outstanding novel, that reflects the hard truths God has shown you and the glorious provision He has poured out. Rob Reiner is extraordinarily proud of the film The Princess Bride, because it was a story worth telling. He would love it if he had lost money on it. He doesn’t compare it to his other films, because it was special. That joy and deep satisfaction in a best effort should color our work. If your story doesn’t look like anyone else’s, if it doesn’t sell like Harry Potter or roar like Aslan, that’s ok. Does it ring true with Christ?
        Cheap copies will always be made of masterpieces. That shouldn’t stop a writer from striving for new heights of excellence.

    • That, and I don’t think writers take the time to develop their characters deeply enough. There has to be some sort of friendship core, or the possibility of it, before there can be a believable romance. Instead, writers just mash two characters together because they don’t bother to think it through.

  3. Thank you for these thought-provoking ideas. I think we often try to add more excitement to real-life. But it could be more reflective of real life.  We need to get outside of our cliched romance box.

  4. Galadriel says:

    The whole “fate/free will” aspect of romances intrigues me, since I recently realized that my OTP (Doctor/River) is a wonderfully complex example of both aspects…

  5. Timothy Stone says:

    I can see the criticisms here you have, but I have a problem with it in a few respects. First of all, almost all stories (chiefly written as romances or not) have deep problems. They either fall into two character types. Either they are too gooey romantic at times (most often the romance genre itself) or what tvtropes.org calls having the characters “strangled by the red string” where they are put together with no believable build-up, and just sort of paired off for the purposes of the plot in ways that don’t make any sense. This would be most other stories. A good example of two characters being “strangled by the red string” is that of Anakin and Padme in the picture you chose.
    I would say that to call P and P just a romance would be absurd, but to say that it is a romance with deeper elements would be accurate. Austen wrote it as a criticism and corrective of the romances of the day.
    I don’t so much mind the characterization of “romance” as a genre if it is more carefully described. I mean, in the show Blue Bloods on CBS, I see much of a family drama, a coming of age story, etc. In some episodes, the mystery is only half of the hour or less. It varies. Yet to say that it is not clearly a “cop show” or what is called a “procedural drama” is absurd.
    Arguably, I think that romance should be improved. I am not arguing that it shouldn’t, or that the author’s points are wrong. He is largely correct. But I have noticed that many of my fellow fantasy/sci-fi readers critique how badly romance is written, and how unrealistic it is, while eating up stuff that in other areas is patently unrealistic and ridiculous. Be it medicine, tactics, the military, science, farming, and so on.
    One recent example last night was in the CW network show Arrow (based, obviously, on the DC character, Green Arrow, who came before Hawkeye, so stop saying he took from Marvel when it’s the other way around). In it, Oliver’s assistant/bodyguard, Diggle, is trying to save Ollie when he was shot. Ollie flatlines, and Diggle uses a defibrillator. Not only would that not work (as that’s not the purpose of a defibrillator at all, but Diggle was supposed to have been a medic in special forces, an 18D, in other words. I slapped my head, cringing, when I saw that. Stuff like that should be written better and corrected too.

  6. Bainespal says:

    First you might of course join me in opposing the very notion of romance as a separate genre. No one writes or publishes fiction focusing only on how one joins a local church, has children, or advances in careers; we don’t have “cozy motherhood” novels or “historical local church” genres. All these are subsets of real life — our greater stories. So is romance.

    There is an argument that the Bible really is primarily a romance, that God’s story — and therefore reality — really is primarily based around romance.  This is not my argument, but I’ve heard it from writers of Christian speculative fiction, so I think I should mention it here.  The basis for the argument is the love story of Christ sacrificing Himself to redeem His bride.  That is the central story of Scripture.

What do you think?